Review Summary: Love Equals Death. How ironic.
A simple known fact in the music world; good bands break up. It happens. Some say it’s necessary to provide room for the next wave of bands, hopefully leaving room for the really fantastic ones. 2005 saw the demise of several rather prolific punk bands. One Man Army called it quits, as did the legendary Rocket From The Crypt, along with the lesser known, although equally amazing Shadowboxer. One band whose demise came rather unexpectedly was Tsunami Bomb. The Bay Area skate-punk stalwarts had just released one of the best punk albums in years in the highly underrated The Definitive Act. Although they got off to a rocky start with their first few albums, they proved themselves worthy of recognition on The Definitive Act. Some suggest that their first few albums weren’t quite as good due to the lack of chemistry between band members. So, when ex-Tsunami Bomb bassist Dominic Davi decided to form Love Equals Death, most Tsunami Bomb fans were cautious at best, harshly critical at worst.
In theory, the sound that Love Equals Death attempts to create should be pretty spectacular: A mix of the darkness of mid-period AFI or TSOL with the speed and intensity of Against the Grain-era Bad Religion. Unfortunately, their Fat Wreck Chords debut Nightmerica (which is probably the worst album title in history, much less the most cliché one since If Only You Were Lonely) is nothing short of mediocre and fraught with disappointment and cliché.
When Nightmerica isn’t blatantly ripping off late-80’s Bad Religion, it’s attempting with little success to create a dark and occasionally violent atmosphere through the cheesy horror movie imagery and trying to do the “catchy-but-still-dark” thing that plagues the majority of CD racks in Hot Topic these days. While Nightmerica isn’t a complete bust, the majority of songs cleanly and unabashedly rip-off every other Bay Area skate-punk band. The few songs that do show some originality and talent are quite impressive actually, some blending two styles that are diametrically opposed and coming up with a non-sleazy punk rock hybrid that sounds like a mix of Bad Religion and Billy Idol.
Nightmerica’s strengths lie literally in numbers. When the whole band joins in with a gang chorus, it’s some of the albums most memorable moments. While vocalist Chon Travis’ voice lacks originality and any real presence or inflection, when combined with his band mates, the result is a chorus so catchy, it could easily appear on mainstream rock radio next to the latest Fall Out Boy single. Unfortunately, no one has ever mentioned this to Love Equals Death, for the amount of times that a gang chorus appears on this album is easily counted on one hand. Travis’ voice is simply unimpressive and unoriginal. Sounding like a wimpier version of mid-period Davey Havok, any AFI fans will probably loathe his vocal capabilities for being so bland. While he does push his voice to almost sounding unique on the more intense tracks like “V.O.C. (Voice of Change)”, these moments, like the gang chorus, are sparse at best.
Musically, Love Equals Death isn’t reinventing the wheel. Sticking to what they know, they play sometimes fast, sometimes mid-paced four chord punk along the lines of either Bad Religion (if the song is one of the faster ones), or The Art of Drowning-era AFI (for the more midpaced songs). While the music has basic structure, there isn’t much along the lines of technicality and very few awe-inspiring moments, which unfortunately showcases Travis’ voice (which is not a good thing at all) and his lyrics (which plunges them into even more trouble; honestly, the lyrics are so bad I won’t discuss them for the sake of my own sanity. Just look up the lyrics to “Pray for Me”). The highlight of the album is Davi’s bass lines, which, although they aren’t very inventive, are for the most part well distinguished and add an interesting groove to the otherwise myopic musical backgrounds. The guitarist, Justin “Duffs” Levine, adds a few interesting solos to otherwise bland songs and is easily the strongest vocalist in the band. His harmonies and additions to the gang vocal section essentially make the group vocals shoot from good to great. Unfortunately, the moments of musical proficiency are few and far between, mostly centering on the typical four-chord, California speed-punk. However uninventive the music might be at times, some credit must be given for knowing their limitations and not coming off as sloppy. The band does play extremely tight, rarely caught off time or sounding awkward, so while Love Equals Death obviously isn’t The Mars Volta, but they also aren’t pretending to be.
All in All, while Nightmerica isn’t the worst album ever, it still suffers from being boring and contrived for the most part, while showing very few (if any) flashes of originality. Those few moments where the band is enjoyable are lost for the most part in a sea of repetitiveness. Whereas bands such as TSOL, Alkaline Trio, and later AFI actually brought innovation to the table when it came to mixing punk rock with a decidedly darker sound, Love Equals Death have become the Mastodon of punk and instead of incorporating a diverse range of influences and creating a truly unique sound, just sound entirely too similar for their own good.